Looking for Peace in Uncertain Times? Try Walking Outside
In these times of social distancing, staying home doesn’t have to mean staying on the couch. Walking outside can help you remain active and provide a break from the chatter of stressful news. Through any season, a simple walk can help you reduce chronic pain, shed pounds, and work off daily stress.
An outdoor walk might be more beneficial than you think. A Netherlands study showed that just looking at pictures of nature can reduce your stress. Weather permitting, trading the treadmill for a walk in nature has tangible benefits to your health.
“Walking in nature opens your mind, and you don’t feel closed in with your problems,” Army veteran Patrick Spiro said. “It helps you stay positive, and you don’t have to walk in place for a limited time like you do at the gym. When I walk outside, my mind is busy focusing on the sights and sounds of the outdoors.”
Patrick joined other veterans for a walk at a Florida nature preserve recently. Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) incorporates walking and hiking in nature in veteran group events, where they can connect with one another on their journeys to recovery.
Here are three reasons walking is good for you:
- Reduce chronic pain levels. Walking is low-impact enough to be gentle on joints, and it has some strengthening benefits. It lubricates hips and knees and strengthens the muscles that support the joints. Cartilage inside your joints receives nutrients from the dynamic motion of walking. Walking also tells your brain to release natural painkillers that help decrease pain.
- Lose weight. In addition to well-known benefits to your heart, walking can help you shed pounds. Start slow – five minutes of walking per day – and work your way up to 30 minutes daily. To make it easier and still burn calories, break up the time into smaller bouts throughout your day. Looking to maximize health benefits? A study of obesity-promoting genes found that walking briskly for an hour daily can cut the effect of those genes in half.
- Clear your head and improve your mental well-being. Walking outside can foster positive thoughts as you take in the scenery. A Harvard study compared the brain activity of people walking for 90 minutes in nature versus an urban setting, and they found people focus less on repetitive negative thoughts in nature. Calming nature sounds also lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
“I get a calm vibe and really enjoy the quiet sounds of nature,” said Roberto Montalvo, an Army veteran. In addition to joining Patrick and other veterans for the outdoor walk, he recently took time from his busy family life to attend a WWP warriors’ camping trip in Georgia. The trip included several nature hikes.
Beyond providing physical benefits, walking with other veterans provides a chance for veterans to bond with one another. These activities help warriors connect with the support network they need to overcome the challenges they face.
In a WWP survey of the wounded warriors it serves, more than two in five (41%) expressed they talk with fellow veterans to address their mental health concerns, and 30% indicated physical activity helps.
Roberto was thankful to spend time in nature with fellow warriors: “We have similar stories. They know where I’ve been, I know where they’ve been, and that makes it easier to understand each other’s concerns.”
Learn about support for veterans that helps warriors thrive in their communities.
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers – helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.